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Escape Pod 777: The Dame With the Earth at Her Back


The Dame With the Earth at Her Back

By Sarah Pauling

That’s the trouble with Teegarden’s northern latitudes: the sun never sets in summer. The red glow assaults Maryellen’s stage long after midnight, pushing in through the picture window alongside the nightclub floor. She’s asked Bruce if she could close the curtains sometime, since she gets tired of squinting out into her audience. He said it’d be a waste of prime oceanside real estate not to let the tourists see the ice.

So she makes the best of it. A comedienne works with what she’s got: in this case, a prime view of the drug deal going down between the back tables.

“I mean honestly! During my show! You couldn’t’a waited fifteen minutes to get your fix?” She clicks across the stage in Mary Jane pumps, letting her voice go high and nasal and schoolmarm scolding. “You couldn’t’a waited fifteen minutes or so? I only got so much material! My stamina’s nil! Ask my ex!” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 775: Spaceship October


Spaceship October

By Greg van Eekhout

When you live on a spaceship, you learn to make your own fun. Exploring the tunnels is some of the very best fun the October’s got. After school hour, me and Droller go scuttling through the darkest conduits you ever will find. The starboard Hab gets minimal heat, so our breath clouds in the light of our head torches as we crawl on our hands and knees.

“You hear that?” Droller whispers from a couple of meters ahead.

I do hear it, a deep, wet wheezing that sounds exactly like Droller trying to spook me.

“You better go ahead and check it out, Droller.”

“Naw, Kitch, it’s behind you. It smells your butt. It’s a butthunter.”

I laugh at Droller’s stupid joke, because the stupider, the funnier, and she’s by far my stupidest friend.

We’re both from Aft Hab, both from the same birth lottery, and out of the eight babies born that season, we’re the only survivors. It used to be the three of us, me and Droller, and Jamm, but Jamm died last year along with her parents when the CO2 scrubbers in their cube failed. The scrubbers were item thirty-three on the fixems’ to-do list.

“How much farther?” I ask Droller.

“Just a couple of panels.”

It’s more like a couple dozen panels, but we finally arrive at the section of conduit above Town Square. Using just our fingers, Droller and me remove the fasteners holding the panel in place and slide it aside, just enough for us to peak out.

Down below, a crowd settles on the rings of benches surrounding the lawn. The brass band toots “Onward or Bust” in a marching beat, their jackets sparkling with silver buttons and silver loops of rope. Droller and I exchange a sad look. Jamm wanted to be a drummer and wear a thick, warm jacket like that. The odds were against an Aft Habber like her, but she was good enough that she might have made it.

Once the tooting is over, one of the Vice Captains ascends the grandstand. The audience stands and salutes in respect. Everyone on the October acts as like salutes are required, but White Madeleine told us saluting was never in the contract the original families signed. The Fore Habbers made up the requirement only eighty years ago.

The kind of people who come to witness a Course Correction are the type who do what they’re supposed to.

The Vice Captain says some stuff into a bullhorn. It’s too distorted for me and Droller to make out actual words, but we know what he’s saying, because this isn’t the first time we’ve watched a Course Correction from the conduits. He’s announcing the name of the violator and their crime.

The guards bring out a man, their hands gripping his arms and shoving. He’s dressed in thin brown paper coveralls. His face is bloodless. I bet he’s shivering in the cold.

“I’ve seen him before,” says Droller. She doesn’t know his name, but he does look familiar. Maybe I’ve spotted him in line at Distro, or maybe on a community service detail. Yeah, that’s it. A few months ago we were on the same crew scraping mold off crop troughs in the farm module. He was quiet and sniffed a lot.

“What do you think he did?” Droller asks.

“I bet he buggered a robot.”

Droller laughs, because it’s stupid. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 769: Deal


Deal

By Eris Young

Beulah wonders what it would be like to touch the Visitor. Oil-slick iridescent, it is tennis ball-sized and scaled with an animated crystalline skin—or shell—or carapace. It floats, stationary, a foot above the rug in the corner of the living room. Its surface changes by the second, rippling back and forth as if stroked by an invisible hand. If she were to run her fingers—gently, gently—over its surface, would it be keratinous, like an iguana? Or feathery? Would it be warm to the touch?

Kim is still behind her somewhere, hovering in the hallway. Get it out, was all she had said, face white as saguaro blossom in the dim mudroom.

Beulah pulled on her jacket, then pulled it off again. “Babe, I have to go to class. Can’t you—”

Kim shook her head, “Uh-uh. Please.” She had been close to tears, almost hyperventilating. Now, muffled by the wall between hall and living room, Her voice is shaky but a bit firmer.

“Is it out?”

If Beulah turns she can just see a sliver of Kim’s shoulder, her pilly cardigan, the electric pink tips of her hair. Her face is now hidden.

“It takes a minute, you know that.”

Beulah crouches, knees popping, to get a better look, steadying herself on the coffee table.

“How’d you get in here, huh?” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 768: Balancing the Equation


Balancing the Equation

by Justin C. Key

June 18, 2031

Lauren led her two-year-old son, Sean, slowly to their car while carrying three full bags of groceries.

“Up,” Sean said, showing her his palms. “Up, Mama, up!”

“Ask one more time and you’re getting a time out when we get home.”

She should have used a cart to carry the groceries. She should have walked with Sean on the inside. She should have ignored the aching pain in her back and picked him up. The rest of her life would be haunted by ‘should’ves’.

“A dog!” Sean pointed at passing poodle as big as him. Of his budding vocabulary, identifying dogs was a family favorite.

“Yes,” Lauren said. “A black dog.” She silently cursed at her failing grip on the bags. She twisted the strap around her wrist. Sean yanked her other arm, hard.

“Okay, time out as soon as–” Lauren said, but choked when she saw that Sean hadn’t tugged at all. It was a black Prius, worn and dented and scratched and horrible, rolling silently over her son to replace him, as if by magic.

Lauren screamed.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 766: The Unrepentant


The Unrepentant

by Derrick Boden

First time I saw her, she was bleeding from her left nostril with a nightstick jammed under her chin. Officer Vang was twisting her arm all kinds of unnatural behind her gene-hacked body, pressing her face to the exterior window with four thousand miles of freefall and filth and societal decay on the flip side. The lights in the cramped hallway–alpha quadrant, fourteenth floor of this godforsaken space elevator–painted her face a rusty orange. She was just another dirtside ghoul from the Rot, weaponized by another shadow corporation that had repurposed Earth’s battlegrounds into one big biotech testbed. Officer Vang–an over-muscled knot of a woman that never missed a chance to make example of one of us refugees–had the ghoul jammed against the hull so hard her boots were dangling like the guerrilla corpses in the town squares back home. She should’ve been howling in pain.

She was laughing.

I’m a shrewd woman, a survivor. Should’ve shuffled right past along with the seventy-some other scrag refugees, all beleaguered and shock-eyed with horror. We weren’t twenty hours from Processing–another week before we’d reach Distribution at the lift’s orbital counterweight–and the illusion of freedom had already bled dry. We’d won the lottery, escaped the Bloc, only to be stamped and sorted and packed into this long vertical handoff from one indenture to the next.

Maybe that’s why I stopped. Something in her laugh said nice try. Sure, we’d spent our respective lives on opposite sides of the war–ghoul against scrag, Rot versus Bloc. Sure, defiance is a cheap substitute for hope. But goddamn did that laugh sound just right, just then.

Besides, I had a plan. I’d been tracking Officer Vang since her immigration crew had subdermaled KUIPER INC down my forearm and tossed me onto this lift. I had a better shot at seeing my twenty-second birthday back in the dirtside scrabble than mining the Kuiper belt. Fucking sponsors.

Only hope now was to carve my own fate.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 763: No Spaceship Go


No Spaceship Go

By Annie Bellet

The boys lay on their backs side by side staring up through the open roof of the abandoned building. Dylan clutched Meek’s hand in anticipation as the ground shook and a roar filled the air. Tiny pebbles danced up from the ground around them and dust ran like water off the crumbling walls.

“Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five,” Dylan whispered, “four… three… two… one.”

The shaking increased and he had to release Meek’s hand to shade his eyes. Smoke billowed up into the air, a streak of fire ahead of it. Then the true sonic blast of the rocketship hit them in a wave as the boys squinted to make out the ship speeding through the atmosphere. It sounded like the crackling of a hundred fires, or perhaps the blast of the biggest blowtorch Dylan could imagine.

Meek whooped and crawled to his knees, staring up into the sky.

“Do you think that’s the one we’ll be on someday?” he asked Dylan.

Dylan rolled to his side and propped himself up on one arm. Dust had accumulated on Meek’s round, tan cheeks and Dylan fought the urge to wipe it away.

“Nah, by the time we’ve saved enough to get our home on Elle Four, the ships’ll all be new I bet. We’ll ride on a superfast one for sure.”

“I want to grow peppers.” Meek smiled up at Dylan, his crooked teeth warping the line of his chapped lips.

“What kind of peppers?” Dylan grinned back. They’d had variations of this conversation before and Dylan didn’t pay much attention to Meek as the boy launched into his usual daydream about gardens and pepper plants.

Dylan daydreamed about something else entirely as he fixated on Meek’s lips, his eyes drifting to the dimple in his friend’s left cheek. He didn’t notice at first that Meek had stopped talking and instead stared up at him with those dark, nearly pupil-less eyes.

“Oh, hmm? I’m sorry.” Dylan murmured.

“Pebble for your thoughts?” Meek smiled again. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 762: Give the Family My Love


Give the Family My Love

by A. T. Greenblatt

I’m beginning to regret my life choices, Saul. Also, hello from the edge of the galaxy.

Also, surprise! I know this isn’t what you had in mind when you said “Keep in touch, Hazel” but this planet doesn’t exactly invoke the muse of letter writing. The muse of extremely long voice messages however…

So. Want to know what’s this world’s like? Rocky, empty, and bleak in all directions, except one. The sky’s so stormy and green it looks like I’m trudging through the bottom of an algae-infested pond. I’ve got this 85-million-dollar suit between me and the outside, but I swear, I’m suffocating on the atmosphere. Also, I’m 900 meters away from where I need to be with no vehicle to get me there except my own two legs.

So here I am. Walking.

Sorry to do this to you, Saul, but if I don’t talk to someone—well, freak out at someone—I’m not going to make it to the Library. And like hell I’m going to send a message like this back to the boys on the program. You, at least, won’t think less of me for this. You know that emotional meltdowns are part of my process.

850 meters. I should have listened to you, Saul.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 760: Deepster Punks


Deepster Punks

by Maria Haskins

Surface

The animated tattoos on Jacob’s skin glimmer in the dark water, words and images swarming over his skin, bright and luminous, before they fade away again.

“Don’t you dare die on me.” I’m holding his head above the waves, but his naked body is cold and slick and heavy in my grip. By now, I should be able to see the lights of the ocean platform, but there’s nothing, only darkness above and below, no horizon separating them. I unseal the mask of my thermal-suit so I can talk to him, even though I’m not sure he can even hear me anymore. “You’re one lucky bastard, you know. If the Company had sent us anywhere else in the system and you pulled this kind of stunt, you’d be dead already.”

It’s true. Beneath the icy mantle of Ceres, in the 10 K depths of Enceladus, he’d be dead for sure. In the sub-surface ocean of Ganymede, or in the tidal-flexing waters of Europa, he’d be dead-dead-dead. Dead like Petra. But he’s here, on Earth, with me, and he’s alive.

Stay alive, Jacob. Please.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 759: The Sun From Both Sides (Part 3 of 3)


The Sun From Both Sides (Part 3 of 3)

By R.S.A. Garcia

(Continued from Part 2 – Escape Pod episode 758)

“Grandmaster Lucochin.”

He started awake, his hand tightening on something. Someone.

The Knight hung motionless over him. He had it by the throat, his fingers digging into the soft flesh beneath the golden full mask and its red speaker.

A gold mask. A Knight of the Royal Sept Valencia. He released the Knight and it straightened, showing no sign that he had almost throttled it in his sleep.

His sleep. He’d fallen asleep.

He looked down at the empty sheets beside him and sucked in a breath. The Knight took a step back as he swung his legs onto the floor.

“Where is my wife?” he ground out, his voice harsh with sleep and fear.

“Grandmaster Valencia awaits you in the Audience Room.”

Where is my wife?

The Knight crossed its arms over bare breasts, the only outward reaction to his inexcusable rudeness.

“Grandmaster Valencia awaits you,” the Knight repeated. The rainbow colors of the three-dimensional dodecahedron crest of Sept Valencia covered most of its forearm.

His blood was ice in his veins as he swiftly pulled on his boots. There was no sign Eva had ever been there. Her shoes were gone, the trays of food had been removed and only one mask remained on the table. His heart stuttered when he laid eyes on it, his lungs refusing to draw air. Then he took a breath and let the old calm, the old watchfulness, settle around him. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 758: The Sun From Both Sides (Part 2 of 3)


The Sun From Both Sides (Part 2 of 3)

By R.S.A. Garcia

(Continued from Part 1 – Escape Pod episode 757)

Once, a man left his home to find his home.

It was not an easy journey, but going home never is.

He gave up all that he was, and all he knew, to experience a great many things. Genuine smiles and thoughtless malice. Shared purpose and individual failure.

And one bright day, in the middle of a river, he found peace. The first true peace in his long life. He learned that a home could be shared, and that in finding his home, he’d become another’s. That was more than enough to bury the fears and chase away the memories. More than enough to keep the world and its cares far, far away.

Until the day he came home, and the world was sitting at their table, brushing invisible dust from white diaphanous trousers with immaculately trimmed and painted fingers. The Knight rose from the wooden chair it had been seated on, the smooth white surface of its full-mask catching the evening light. A pin-hole speaker made a glowing blue circle in the centre of the lower half of the mask, and tinted slits hid the Knight’s eyes. (Continue Reading…)